The natural as a moral category
in From reason to practice in bioethics
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This chapter argues that many attempts to justify something morally because it is natural, or to condemn it because it is unnatural are unsound, either because they assume that what is or was the case must be right, or because they confuse reality and metaphor by supposing that there can really be natural purposes, or because they assume that it must be wrong to interfere with a natural process or a natural function, or that what one must do is determined by the process of evolution. But there is a place in moral discourse for an empirical examination of the natural and the artificial, and particularly of the spontaneous and the artificial. Sometimes one will have to take this seriously, because human nature is not infinitely malleable; sometimes the spontaneous will be preferable to the artificial, either because it will produce fewer unintended consequences, or because it will produce more satisfaction. One should not assume metaphysically that the natural or spontaneous is always better than the artificial: but one should acknowledge empirically that sometimes it is, and act accordingly.

From reason to practice in bioethics

An anthology dedicated to the works of John Harris


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